As retailers look to the future, they will need to re-examine how they can still provide an optimal in-store experience for customers while also taking pandemic-related factors into consideration. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI)- and machine learning (ML)-based technologies will play an increasingly larger role in facilitating this.
For retailers across sectors, there’s a heightened need now to examine the brick-and-mortar experience and figure out how to make it behave more like an online channel in some sense. How do you maintain consistency of brand, experience and customer-centricity across all channels?
Two key factors will be consistency and availability. Shoppers expect the convenience of 24/7 shopping. If a customer tries to access a retailer’s site and it’s down — even if it’s a problem with the network provider — it’s going to reflect negatively on the retailer. Retailers need to build resilient systems in which their organization can anticipate annual spikes in business, and systems need to be performing at 100 percent to keep up.
The Importance of Resiliency
Something is always bound to break; it’s inevitable. For retailers, it’s less about trying to change that inevitability and instead ensuring there are systems in place that can respond if a failure does occur. Paramount to ensuring this is having a holistic view/visibility across all of the different technologies and systems within your retail organization, and then determining how to correlate the information from all of these to gain a deeper understanding.
The way chain stores are typically set up often leaves individual locations in the lurch when it comes to IT. Compared to online channels/e-commerce, there’s been relatively lower technology investment made in the past decade. If something goes down, they have to escalate a request to a corporate IT office somewhere before the situation can be remedied. With autonomous technologies, however, stores can take advantage of features such as self-healing and proactive prescribed resolution. Prediction capabilities mean business service failures are forecasted. Stores can avoid potential downtime in functions such as direct-to-store delivery, click-and-collect, and others. With systems like these, stores can keep their physical and online operations running even during times of heightened demand.
The Balance of Efficiency vs. Resiliency
Too often, there’s been a singular focus on efficiency to the point where it’s overridden resiliency. The pandemic will drive retail executives to focus on creating that essential balance between the two. Both the website and retail stores need to run like well-oiled machines. That includes payment gateways, loyalty systems, warehouse management applications, supply chain operations, point-of-sale transactions, among others. The stability and resiliency of your IT backbone cannot be underestimated — this is what will free up your resources from constant firefighting and instead allow you to optimize your systems and prepare for growth.
The retail industry is at a precipice, having been hit hard by COVID-19. In fact, analysts with GlobalData predict that consumer spending in the 50 largest retail markets around the world will be around $528 billion lower than it was in 2019. The retail industry faces an uphill battle, certainly, but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Autonomous and AI technologies bring new opportunities for transformation, allowing for better optimization of resources. By shifting the focus from pure efficiency to one that combines efficiency with resiliency, retail organizations will be able to provide a better experience for customers and employees. In the new digital economy, the always-on store will be table stakes.
Rajiv Nayan is responsible for growing Digitate’s ignio business in the Americas.
Related story: Reimagining Commerce for the Age of Connected Devices
Rajiv Nayan is responsible for growing Digitate’s ignio business in the Americas and is based out of Digitate Head Quarter in Santa Clara, California. Rajiv has an accomplished career of more than two decades in the IT services industry, across sales and delivery functions. Rajiv has a degree in mechanical engineering from Delhi Technical University and an MBA from the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto.